‘Ricki and the Flash’ Reviews: Meryl Streep’s Rock Star Hits Flat Note With Critics

Reviewers agree that even the Oscar-winning actress can’t singlehandedly save a predictable, underwhelming plot

Ricki and the Flash: Mamie Gummer, Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline (Sony Pictures)
Sony Pictures

Meryl Streep can do amazing things, but even Hollywood’s elite can’t save every flimsy script.

In the Jonathan Demme-directed dramedy “Ricki and the Flash,” Streep plays Ricki Rendazzo — a rock ‘n’ roll wannabe who left her suburban family life behind to pursue her musical dreams. She eventually returns to amend years of tension with her family after her daughter’s husband leaves her and she becomes suicidal.

Streep stars alongside her real-life daughter Mamie Gummer, as on-screen daughter. Kevin Kline stars as Ricki’s ex-husband Pete, and Rick Springfield plays her more-than-friends bandmate.

As evidenced by the film’s 57 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, critics are not impressed, but also not disgusted. One said that the story “chugs along naturally,” while another noted the film was “sweet and likable.” The critics’ reviews about “Ricki” can best be described as relatively uplifting, albeit nothing extraordinary.

TheWrap’s own film critic Alonso Duralde railed against the film’s plot inefficiencies.

“There are moments that work in ‘Ricki’ — an awkward family dinner, a scene featuring Charlotte Rae as Pete’s senile mother, a confrontation between Ricki and Pete’s second wife Maureen (Audra McDonald) — but they play like discrete bit of pleasure that don’t add up to anything,” Duralde said. “It’s fine to forfeit elements like stakes or suspense for a character piece, but when the characters are this vague, there’s nothing on which to hang your hat (or headband, for that matter).”

Bill Goodykoontz of the Arizona Republic lamented over what “might have been.”

“That’s the sentiment that lingers over the whole movie,” he wrote in his review. “What might have been must be better than what’s here, because what’s here isn’t much.”

Slate’s Dana Stevens echoed the lack of complexity, particularly in the film’s characters.

“The screenplay (by ‘Juno’/’Young Adult’ scribe Diablo Cody) doesn’t lack for memorable zingers, and thanks to Cody’s script and Streep’s performance, Ricki emerges as a complex, self-contradictory person (even if most of the supporting characters don’t),” Stevens said.

Lindsey Bahr of the Associated Press, however, was more sympathetic toward the characters.

“It sounds like the stuff of melodrama, but in the hands of director Jonathan Demme, the story chugs along naturally and subtly with the characters — from an awkward showdown at a fancy restaurant to a nostalgia and marijuana-fueled night of bonding over stories and home videos,” Bahr said.

She added: “In fact, all of the relationships are given an unexpected texture and depth, from the ex-husband’s new wife and surrogate mother to the children Maureen (Audra McDonald) to Ricki’s more-than-a-friend bandmate Greg (Rick Springfield).”

Perhaps the main issue, as the Washington Post’s Ann Hornaday suggests in her review, is that the film tries to do more than it should.

“Although sweet and likable, ‘Ricki and the Flash’ pulls too many punches to qualify as cathartic or even memorable,” Hornaday said. “Instead, it’s a crowd-pleaser every bit as calculated and earnestly defanged as a Golden Oldies bus-and-truck tour.”

Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune has his own ideas as to why a film with so many “first-rate artists in its corner” doesn’t quite work.

“Partly it’s a matter of style, but mostly it’s because the script is made of tin,” Phillips speculated. “Demme and company create a determinedly straight-ahead, no-frills, never-notice-a-single-shot showcase for Streep, and the narrative serves the lead performance.”

The San Francisco Chronicle’s critic Mick LaSalle summed it up best: “Meryl Streep can do anything, but that doesn’t mean she should do everything.”

“Ricki and the Flash” opens in theaters Aug. 7.